Saturday – May 26, 2012 –
Yesterday after work, I flew from to Fort Lauderdale from Birmingham via Atlanta. My brother Jeff had come down a day earlier to visit the Everglades and go to a Marlins game tonight, so he picked me up at the airport in the rental car around midnight. I couldn’t believe how warm it was at night here in South Florida. It reminded me a little bit of Thailand’s evening temperatures. We drove about 40 minutes to our hotel, the Hampton Inn Miami-Doral near Dolphin Mall.
This morning after waking up a little late, we decided to cruise one of America’s great road trips. We turned on our GPS and headed south towards the islands … the Florida Keys, that is!
Around 11 a.m., we left Miami. Traffic was heavy since this was Memorial Day weekend, so we planned to allow a lot of time for congestion and several stops along the way. About 15 miles south of Miami, we crossed a bridge on to the first of the Florida Keys. We had begun our drive on the Overseas Highway, the 127-mile section of U.S. Highway 1.
Driving the Overseas Highway is fantastic. It really felt like we were in the Mission: Impossible movie as we drove on the impossibly long bridges where one of the movie scenes was filmed. We also passed the parallel old bridge which once hosted part of Flagler’s overseas railroad before the 1935 hurricane destroyed much of it. Many residents and visitors used parts of the old bridges as fishing piers.
We passed over the largest key, Key Largo, at mile marker 91. It made me think of one of my favorite classic movies of the same name starring Humphrey Bogart and Lauren Bacall. We decided to stop at Snapper’s, a well-known seafood restaurant overlooking the Atlantic Coast of Key Largo. The food was fantastic and it was interesting watching people arrive for dinner in their boats.
Later we traveled on to Islamorada, Plantation Key, the Matecumbe Keys and Long Key before arriving at the Long Key Bridge. As we crossed this bridge, we left the Upper Keys and entered the Middle Keys and the municipality of Marathon. There we crossed several keys including Grassy, Vaca, Pigeon and Knights keys.
At the end of Knights Key, we began our cruise above a highlight of the drive: the Seven Mile Bridge, which connects Knights Key to Little Duck Key. When the bridge was built, it was one of the longest bridges in the world. At the middle of the bridge, the structure rose to about 65-feet – what is surely the highest point in the Keys! As we drove down the bridge, it really looked like we were driving into the Gulf of Mexico. It was really weird watching our path on the GPS – it appeared that we were driving over the ocean! Once we arrived on Little Duck Key, we officially reached the Lower Keys.
For the last leg of our journey, we drove over keys such as Bahia Honda, Scout, No Name, Big Pine and Little Torch, Sugarloaf, Saddlebunch, Boca Chica. Finally we arrived at Key West, our final destination at Mile Marker 4. The drive from Key Largo to Key West takes about 2.5 hours without stopping, but we stopped a number of times for views along the way.
That afternoon we arrived at Key West. Since this was Memorial Dayweekend, we ended up staying at one of the few places that still had a few reservations left two weeks earlier. We checked into our hotel, the Key West Doubletree Grand Key Resort, and then headed toward Mallory Square pier. We arrived around 19:30 p.m. just in time for one of the best sunsets in the eastern United States. We also watched several interesting entertainers including fire eaters and chainsaw jugglers on unicycles!
Afterwards we went out for dinner on Duval Street, one of the best party streets in the United States. It’s not quite as crazy as Bourbon Street in New Orleans’ French Quarter, but it was a great party scene. I thought overall it was perhaps quirkier, but just an interesting mix of characters. They call Key West the Conch Republic – it was famously declared symbolically in the 20th century — and it’s really like a whole nation to itself at the end of America. It definitely feels like a world away from Miami.